President Barack Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009.
Once again a President of the United States is trying to forge a lasting peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
A solid solution to the enduring conflict has eluded several presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Will Barack Obama do any better?
The insoluble nature of the situation in the Holy Land goes back to biblical times. The prophet Isaiah nevertheless had a touch of optimism when he predicted:
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.”
It didn’t happen. Century after century the Holy Land has seen bloodshed and carnage. Palestine and Israel have been conquered, lost and conquered again. There has been no respite in the wars and bloodshed. After Solomon’s death, the Jews ruled Jerusalem but, in future years, the city was taken by Assyrians, Philistines, Arabs, Syrians, Persians and Egyptians. The Babylonians burned down the temple.
So, when President Obama met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday, from an historical perspective, the prospects for peace didn’t look good. And, after the meeting, the chances for peace still seemed far away. But at least they’re still talking and trying.
If this seems like an old movie, something you’ve seen before, you’re right. These players [or their predecessors] have played parts in this drama before. And the outcome has often been failure.
Netanyahu, who has an American accent when he speaks English [he’s a graduate of MIT] is a tough negotiator. His father, an historian, was a founder of Israel’s conservative movement. Netanyahu’s brother was a hero, slain in the successful Israeli raid on Entebbe, which saved 100 hostages.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, is considered a moderate among Palestinian politicians. He became leader of Fatah, which Yassir Arafat led for many years.
Our president, Barack Obama, got his street experience as a community organizer in Chicago. The street in the Holy Land is certainly as rough a place as the street in Chicago. Will any of the skills he learned as a young man help Obama in this task?
For the moment Obama seems to have given up his demand that Israelis totally “freeze” settlement activity on the West Bank. The Israelis have resisted that idea but Netanyahu and the Palestinians now agree that the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis requires a two-state solution.
That, at least, is a starting point. When he was a 23-year-old community organizer in the mid-1980s, Obama was described as tireless and practical. When he announced he was running for President, Obama said: ‘’It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education I ever had…..[It] taught me a lot about listening to people as opposed to coming in with a predetermined agenda.”
Not a bad attitude to bring to these negotiations. The President can’t dig in his heels and neither can the Israelis or Palestinians. When the parties got together on Tuesday, during the Hebrew New Year’s holiday, the top Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, recognized the Israeli Foreign Minister, a hawk.
Said Erekat: "Shona Tovah!" It’s Hebrew for: "Happy New Year!" It could be a good omen. We’ll wait and see.